A year ago this week, everything changed.
The hustle and bustle of our world in Charlotte came to a halt when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in our community in March of 2020. Seemingly overnight, events were canceled, offices were closed and gyms and restaurant dining rooms were emptied. Jobs were lost. We naively thought we’d only have to stay home for two weeks to avoid community spread of the coronavirus. Two weeks turned into three, and then we started counting months.
Too many people got sick. Too many died. It’s difficult to find the words to express what it feels like to lose 500,000+ Americans to this virus in one year.
In Charlotte and around the country, we started wearing cloth face coverings to protect ourselves and others. We mastered virtual meetings. We now know that six feet apart can feel like miles. We’ve learned that what we most need in this world is our health — and each other.
Somehow, a year has passed. So much has changed, and so much is still changing.
As journalists, there is a responsibility that comes with knowing — even as the moment is happening — that we are documenting history. Photojournalists can capture moments in time that will forever remind us of what we have been through together. In words and pictures, here are a few of those moments to remind us, from the CharlotteFive team (make sure to check out the video above or the gallery at the end of this story for 50 of our best photos from the past year):
March 11, 2020: In addition to our “25 ways to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day” story, we ran an article titled: “COVID-19: Should I avoid crowds? Restaurants, the gym, this weekend’s big pub crawl?” The NBA suspended its season after all the games on March 11. The first COVID-19 positive case was identified in Mecklenburg County. Grocery store shelves were empty.
March 12: Rich & Bennett’s St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl was postponed amid coronavirus concerns. The Charlotte Go Green Festival was postponed and the Whitewater Center’s Green River Revival was canceled.
March 13: Local spots began making the difficult decision to close temporarily to stop COVID-19. Sycamore Brewery was the first, followed by others over the next few days, including Wooden Robot, Charlotte Beer Garden, Girl Tribe Co., Barre Code and Hygge. Once the pause in service announcements began, they didn’t stop. One by one or two by two or sometimes four by four, restaurant closing announcements trickled into our team for the next few days.
March 17: At 5 p.m. on March 17 under executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper, all restaurant dining rooms closed. Restaurants were still allowed to serve takeout and delivery orders. This was a St. Patrick’s Day like we’d never seen before.
March 18: A CDC report came with a warning: COVID-19 is seriously sickening American adults of all ages, not just elderly or immune-compromised individuals.
March 26: Mecklenburg County’s stay-at-home order went into effect at 8 a.m.
March 27: It will be impossible to recollect this time in our lives without thinking about the toilet paper shortage. Charlotte restaurants with extra rolls started handing them out.
March 29: A 60-year-old died in Mecklenburg County from COVID-19, the first confirmed coronavirus-related death in the county.
March 30: We caught up with Yosefry Cabreja, delivering packages for Fed Ex in the Shannon Park neighborhood. He was just one of many in our community, out there doing what they could to get us what we needed to stay safe — and at home. “*Sigh*...Yall about to have folks ordering stuff they don’t need hoping Mr. Cabreja show up,” @cindersevens commented on our Instagram post.
April 3: The CDC recommended Americans begin wearing face coverings in public.
April 4: These were Charlotte’s signs of the coronavirus times.
April 17: We baked so much bread: banana, sourdough, Kindred’s Milk Bread.
April 30: The parks were crowded, so we took over the streets, too (a pedestrian’s dream).
May 7: Charlotteans laced up their running shoes to run for Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while out for a jog in Georgia.
May 19: Make it safe, but fashion: Readers emailed us their mask selfies and shared where they bought their favorite face coverings. The shaming of those choosing to wear masks in public was also in full force.
May 24: So many businesses have closed since the coronavirus pandemic began — too many to list here. On this day, Beth Castle wrote a memoriam to the Manor Theatre, which had recently announced that after 73 years in Charlotte, it would not reopen.
End of May: After George Floyd was killed by the police on May 25, activists in Charlotte joined those nationwide in taking to the streets to protest police brutality, systematic racism against Black people. Charlotteans marched all summer, not only for George Floyd but also Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others.
June 9: After 11 nights of protests in Charlotte, 17 of Charlotte’s artists came together to create a Black Lives Matter mural on South Tryon Street.
June 19: Charlotte’s local businesses struggled during this time, and the community rushed to help in all the ways that we could. In about 24 hours, Lang Van customer Carly West raised more than $30,000 for the restaurant. By October, the fundraiser had received more than $60,000.
June 26: Camp North End opened its food stalls, perfect timing for a socially distant summer in Charlotte. All around the city during the past year, we utilized restaurant walk-up windows as a way to support our favorite local restaurants without the dangers of walking indoors to get takeout. Crepe Cellar co-owner Jamie Brown, who wrote a diary of her experiences in 2020 for CharlotteFive, created a pop-up restaurant called “Bring the Queen.”
July: We knew travel was unsafe, but that didn’t stop us from dreaming. We studied flight deals, refund policies. We made plans for far into the future — with money-back guarantees for cancellations, obviously.
July 17: When we got to the endless scroll on Netflix, it was difficult to know what to do next. Then Queens of the Queen City dropped in July and the couch life was right again for a moment.
August: Parents, teachers and officials navigated the tough decisions ahead regarding virtual school and in-person learning. Former teachers Ensley Henderson and Sara Kay Mooney wrote an op-ed on July 31 titled “Let’s use our privilege to make virtual learning equal for all in Charlotte.”
August 13: Move over, puzzles and sourdough, there’s a new hobby in the house. Emiene Wright wrote about our latest collective pandemic obsession: plant collecting. We’d like to think plants will be here to stay long after COVID-19 has left the building. We also wondered: how else will the coronavirus change the way we live at home?
August 25: We learned that part of the cruelty of COVID-19 is that simply surviving doesn’t mean everything is OK. NoDa Yoga owner Jillian Longsworth talked candidly about what it was like to be a “COVID long-hauler” and the importance of sharing symptoms so that we can learn from each other.
September 18: Charlotte got its first seltzery, Summit Seltzer. Adding even more alcohol choices to a city known for its craft beer scene seemed a perfect way to wrap up the strangest summer of our lives.
October 8: Outdoor dining was still a thing, but winter was on its way and by this point, we all knew the risks of sharing indoor space with others. We began preparing for winter with colder, shorter days, knowing the COVID-19 numbers could get worse.
October 15-31: Early voting began, and with it came a plan for most convenient location, shortest lines and of course — best swag.
October 31: We celebrated Halloween — from a distance.
November 3: The first — and hopefully last — Election Day during a pandemic came and went with a lot of nervous excitement and waiting.
November: We prepared for a distanced holiday season, and with it came tough choices and canceled plans. In a year full of so much disappointment, we seemed to need this year’s holiday lights a little more than usual. We put our trees and decorations up early, too.
December 1: We said a lot of notable goodbyes to longtime businesses in 2020, and Sammy’s Deli decided to mark its last day on December 1 with free breakfast and lunch to customers. “I guess everything has an ending,” owner Billy Harris told CharlotteFive a few weeks before closing. Harris opened Sammy’s in 1997 with former co-owner Serafimes “Sammy” Balatsias. “That’s going to be it. We did what we did, it’s been good.” Nearby Nova’s Bakery closed soon after, on Dec. 13. Some good news, though: Dish began serving the breakfast menu from Sammy’s, giving longtime regulars a neighborhood place to continue gathering.
December: Amid rising COVID-19 cases in North Carolina and across the country and CDC recommendations, we learned to embrace family time via screens and in one case — an Alpine mountain-themed garage. We discovered hot chocolate bombs and supported local restaurants by ordering takeout. We even narrowed down our favorite takeout spots of the year. We considered the safety of dining igloos and did holiday shopping virtually, knowing this year was even more important to support small business. We canceled New Year’s and hoped 2021 would be better.
January 2021: Although it feels like everything has been about COVID-19, in truth, not everything has been about COVID-19. Case in point: We celebrated the best fried chicken sandwiches Charlotte has to offer (OK, fine, — they were to-go and coronavirus-friendly). We worked off the calories in our home gyms. And maybe most importantly, when we did leave the house: we overtipped on everything.
January 15: Reporter Ebony Morman caught up with Hot Box Next Level Kitchen’s chef Michael Bowling, who had been battling with COVID-19 and spent Christmas Day in the hospital. Before the holidays, Bowling told CharlotteFive about his personal journey with his health and his path to becoming one of the Queen City’s favorite chefs.
February: We celebrated Super Bowl at home, with all the wings we could eat by ourselves and friends to cheer with ready on Zoom. We also celebrated Black History Month at home, Valentine’s Day at home and well — basically everything at home (including binge watching “Bridgerton”.)
February (cont.): Charlotte, we also embraced everything vegan, especially food trucks, and especially Romeo’s — so much so that it will get its own brick-and-mortar soon. We celebrated new restaurant announcements, such as BW Sweets’ expansion, and businesses who pivoted, such as Wooden Robot’s new flex workspace. Hey, 2020 may have made us hate the word, but we can still admire the act.
Feb. 19-March 6: The second annual “I Heart Rail Trail: Lights” exhibit, however, gave us a safe, socially distant reason to get off the couch and enjoy some beautiful artwork.
March 2021: Most of the rest of this month remains to be seen. Worries about COVID-19 strains remain, but the daily numbers are improving. The vaccine is here for some and just around the corner for everyone. Is this the hope we need? Will this bring relief? Time will tell, but if we’ve learned nothing else, it’s that we can get through quite a lot — together.